Hazem Tharwat

After a two-month stoppage, crude oil is once again being shipped out of ports from Libya, the result of an internationally-sponsored deal between Government of National Unity Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbaiba and the son of Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, Saddam Haftar.

The most immediate effects of the deal were the forced removal of National Oil Corporation chair Mustafa Sanalla, who has held the position since 2014 and has attempted to avoid politicization of the oil-rich country’s main source of revenue. 

On July 12, Dbiaiba issued a decision to restructure the NOC’s board of directors and to assign Farhat bin Qadara to lead the new board.

Sanalla responded a day later in a furious speech, rejecting the decision and leveling harsh criticism at Dbaiba and the United Arab Emirates, who he said were behind the deal. 

Sanalla tried to prevent Bin Qadara from entering the main NOC headquarters in Tripoli, but Dbaiba responded by sending an armed force to the building. Bin Qadara was eventually able to enter the headquarters amid tight security measures on Thursday. 

The deal between Dbaiba and the Haftars extends back to an Italian proposal discussed in Rome on May 28–29 by the P3+2 countries (the US, the UK, France, Italy and Germany), with representatives from Egypt and Turkey present as well, according to an informed Libyan source.

As part of the proposal, Dbaiba and the Haftars would hold negotiations to reshuffle the GNU Cabinet and NOC, as well as appoint people close to Haftar and his sons in a number of companies affiliated with the country’s sovereign wealth fund as a solution through which the United Nations-sponsored peace process, which has been stalled since elections failed to materialize in December, could be resumed.

The intervention to bring together Haftar and Dbaiba was made more urgent, as Haftar —who had formed an alliance with House of Representatives Speaker Aguila Saleh and former Government of National Accord Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha to support a rival government to the GNU headed by Bashagha — halted exports from the oil crescent and several other key ports on April 16 after Bashagha had failed several times to enter the capital and assert his government’s new legitimacy.

The moves by Haftar had halved the nation’s output and caused chronic electricity outages, stoking public anger.

In return for the key appointments, the Haftar side would resume oil production and export operations, hand over government offices in the east and south of the country to the GNU, and disengage from the Bashagha government.

According to the source, with hopes for the UN-sponsored process to culminate in elections increasingly out of reach, Western powers see no point in supporting the formation of a new government at the present time, the source explained.

The source confirmed that the proposal was strongly supported by both the United Kingdom and Italy, but opposed by France and Egypt.

The UAE, on the other hand, offered to help mediate between the two parties due to its close relations with both Dbaiba and Haftar.

As a result of increasingly warm relations between Dbaiba and the UAE, Abu Dhabi stopped funding three pro-Haftar Libyan TV channels in June that it had funded over the past seven years, namely, the 218 News and 218 General channels, the headquarters of which were moved to Barcelona after broadcasting earlier from Amman, as well as the Libya is the Soul of the Nation channel, run by former Libyan ambassador to the UAE Aref Ali al-Nayed.

In his Wednesday speech, Sanalla challenged Dbaiba’s decision to oust him from the NOC leadership on the grounds that “the institution is protected by international law and political agreement.

It is neutral and does not belong to the government.” He also attacked his replacement, bin Qadara, accusing him of “conspiring” with the UAE and wanting to fritter away “US$600 million per annum to please” the country.

In the meantime, those close to Bashagha, the House of Representatives-designated prime minister, are stoking security tension with armed patrols moving along the coastline in the areas of Warshafana and Jafara, located southwest of the capital. 

Bashagha is aiming to recruit Osama al-Juwaili — the influential Zintani military figure who played a key role in defending the capital from Haftar’s assault and ran on the same appointment list as Salah and Bashagha in the 2020 UN-led Libyan Political Dialogue Forum that brought Dbaiba to power — to his side by capitalizing on tension between Juwaili and Dbaiba. 

The relationship between Dbaiba and Juwaili has been strained since the former established a new military zone for the western coast and separated it from the western military region now led by Juwaili.

The decision led to clashes that left one dead and five wounded, according to what was announced by the Tripoli municipality at the time.  

In May, Dbaiba dismissed Juwaili as head of the military intelligence.

On Saturday night into Sunday morning, information spread online about the movements of armed vehicles on the western coastal road and areas southwest of Tripoli.

The vehicles were said to belong to the Western military zone under Juwaili’s command and had mobilized to reinstall Sanalla as head of the NOC and to allow Bashagha to enter the capital. However, sources close to Juwaili, say that the Zintani strongman has ordered his units to stay in their barracks and has refused to intervene in a conflict between the NOC and any other institution. 

So far, neither Bashagha or Saleh has made a public comment on the rapprochement between Dbaiba and Haftar and Sanalla’s ouster. 

Dbaiba, however, addressed the deal in a Sunday speech, stating the changes at the NOC are intended to solve the country’s electricity crisis, denying the existence of a political deal behind the move.

The decision was taken in order to facilitate “rapprochement between Libyans,” Dbaiba added, warning that whoever tries to return to office using violence will be met with force. 

The prime minister also addressed oil outputs in his address on Sunday. 

We need to facilitate the entry of big oil companies, especially European ones, to help us increase production and develop the sector,” Dbaiba said, adding that crude exports are on track for full resumption.

The NOC said on Twitter Sunday that an Italian-flagged tanker had entered Brega’s oil terminal to load a shipment.



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